Devotional Guide

For use by the Transition Team during Step 4

Communal Prayer

 

Apostles’ Teaching Week One -– Day One

Psalm 119:105

(The psalmist writes) Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Martin Luther has said, “The bible is the cradle where Christ is laid.” I love this quote and Luther's understanding of scripture. If we want to deepen our relationship with God, then we look in the bible for how God has related with so many people before us, and here we will find God waiting for us as well.

My favorite scripture is Psalm 23 which was also a favorite for my grandmother. We usually hear Psalm 23 read at funerals and this psalm is helpful when people are grieving. It is also a prayer that addresses many situations that we wrestle with every day.

Several years ago, I was so worried for my daughter that I often woke up in the middle of the night filled with anxiety and dread. There was nothing I could do to help her and this made my situation feel hopeless. One night as I lay in bed, I started to pray Psalm 23 but changing the pronouns to describe my daughter, “The Lord is her shepherd, she shall not want.” When I got to the end of the psalm I would start over again and usually by the third time through I would fall asleep knowing that I couldn't help my daughter but that God could. Praying Psalm 23 for my daughter in the middle of the night was my way of asking for God's help and with these words of scripture as my prayer, God seemed very close to me.

What words of scripture have been helpful to you? You may know many.

How have these words brought you closer to God?

Have you ever shared this with someone else?

If you are reading this devotion as a group, please share with the others a bible reading that has been especially meaningful to you. As you share these words, you will also be sharing your nearness to God. This is how we witness to others about what is important to us. This is how we can use scripture to invite others into a relationship with God.

As your congregation goes through this time of transition, it might be helpful to share this experience not just with your small group but also with your entire congregation.

You will be inviting others to acknowledge their own favorite scripture passage and how it has helped them. This will in turn help all of you to witness how God has been close to you through the words of the bible. We need to remember and share the times we have felt closest to God. This is what frees us to go forward into the future.

Scripture and prayer will provide the foundation as your congregation enters into something new. And if you are not sure where this is taking your congregation please remember the words from Psalm 119:105 - “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Let us pray – Thank you God for walking with us on this journey and for making yourself known through the words of the bible. Amen             Rev. Steve Nelson 19

 

Apostles’ Teaching Week One – Day Two

2 Timothy 3:16-17

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

In the Bible Jesus says “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) This verse got my attention many years ago. Although I had regularly attended church most of my life, I felt like God was a distant figure that we could never really know intimately or personally. However, through this verse, I was drawn to the idea of knowing this God who had created me. As I began to read and meditate on the truths of the Bible, my soul found nourishment and I began to see life though God’s perspective rather than my own. For the first time, I could sense God’s presence in my heart and mind.

Scripture is important in the life of the church because it reveals to us God’s character and nature. It instructs us in wise living. It allows us to see God’s faithfulness in the lives of those who have gone before us thus giving us confidence that He will do the same in our lives. The Scriptures encourage our souls and give us strength to keep trusting God even when we can’t see or understand the purposes for our struggles and trials. The Holy Spirit uses Scripture to transform us into the likeness of Jesus Christ so that we can glorify God with our lives and make Jesus’ love known to a lost and dying world.

Although we aren’t physically walking with Jesus like the disciples did, by studying God’s word, we too can see and know the Father. If you have not spent time reading Scripture, I encourage you to start today. Your life will never be the same.

Heavenly Father, we thank you that through your inspired Holy Word we can truly know you. May you use it to transform us into faithful stewards who live changed lives, praying for one another, serving humbly, and practicing hospitality, so that our actions reflect Christ to others. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Jennifer Prueter 20

 

Apostles’ Teaching Week One – Day Three

Ephesians 4:11-13

The gifts [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ

By God’s grace, at the invitation of the leadership of the Northwestern Ohio Synod, I have had the opportunity to serve as lay supply for three congregations in pastoral transition. The spiritual gifts of faith, preaching, and teaching have been put on my heart. These gifts have caused me to discern my call as one of God’s disciples. Discernment is difficult because one must be able to identify what is from God and what is earthly desire. To step into the pulpit to deliver a message, prayerfully sent by God, is alarming and humbling. Knowing the truth and depth of God’s love allows that leap of faith to preach the Word so others may come to know that same love. As God gives gifts to his people, so too, gifts are given to congregations. The churches I served leaned on their gifts as they discerned God’s ongoing plans.

One congregation’s strength is the gift of hospitality—welcoming the stranger into their midst, making them feel at home. They also had the gift of knowledge that their congregation needed to become part of a larger parish. They now share a pastor with two other congregations and share some ministries while still maintaining their own identity.

The gifts of leadership, teaching and outreach belong to another congregation. Many congregational ministries were lay led with mechanisms in place allowing their worship, education, food pantry, and community ministries to continue with little disruption. Aware change may come one day, they pray God’s plan is for them to grow, and continue being viable in their community. A shared-communion partner pastor is serving this congregation.

The third congregation has the gift of visitation and welcome. Laity has organized so that the sick and shut-in are visited weekly. During transition doors remain open to the community groups to use the facility with a welcoming presence of members available to provide assistance as needed. Despite declined membership, they pray for a full-time pastor to serve their needs and take them outside the doors of the church and into the neighborhood. An interim pastor currently is serving them.

Discerning the future is difficult. We live in changing times and change occurs in leaps and bounds. Being in transition takes faith. My mantra is: Faith is lived in LEAPS and BOUNDS: Learn, Experience, Adapt, Pray, Send to Build Others Up as New Disciples to Serve. Take this time of transition to: Learn your congregation’s gifts, Experience ways of doing ministries, Adapt as needed, Pray earnestly for God’s wisdom and will, and See where you are “equipping the saints … for building up the body of Christ.” Celebrate your gifts of discipleship!

God, this is not new for you. “For a long time Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law; but when in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, he was found by them*” Let us seek and find you, and know your will for us. In Jesus name we pray. Amen. *(2 Chronicles 15:3-4)

Deb Noll 21

 

Apostles’ Teaching Week One – Day Four

Jeremiah 31:33-34

33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Matt was a typical 6-year-old boy whose Mom and Dad were actively involved in St. Stephen Lutheran Church. Matt and his older brother spent many hours in the church building, playing together during adult choir practice, council meetings and various other times. They were so comfortable there that they frequently stole the show during children’s sermons. My favorite example was the morning the Matt tied his shoelaces together around the communion rail and pulled his feet apart. When the children went back to their seats, Matt was trapped in a snare of his own making. Finally, his Dad removed him from his shoes and left them attached to the rail for the rest of the service. Matt was “that kid”.

Matt also had a gift that I’ve never encountered in another person. He knew the Scriptures. He hadn’t studied them in any way other than through the usual children’s Bible stories and family devotions, but he seemed to know every word. It wasn’t one of those things that he was asked to demonstrate. It was simply part of who Matt was. If someone said the first part of a Bible verse, he would finish it. If you asked him about any story in the Bible, he knew it.

Decades later, I still don’t know what to make of Matt’s extraordinary spiritual gift. I lost touch with the family when I left the area, so I don’t know whether the gift stayed with him into adulthood or not. What I do know is that God’s Word is so much more than the words of Sacred Scripture. God’s Word IS written in our hearts. Studying the Bible helps us understand the nature of God and who we are in relation to God and each other. As we study the Bible, alone and in community, God forms us more fully into the Body of Christ. And through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we also know Jesus, the Living Word of God, through whom we inherit eternal life.

Eternal God: Your Word is, indeed, a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Fill me with a hunger to know You better. AMEN

Pastor Beth Westphal 22

 

Apostles’ Teaching Week One – Day Five

Psalm 1:1-3

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

The Word of God is good and has the power to transform congregations from who they are into the people God longs for them to be. In Psalm 1, we read about the gift of delight and discipline. God’s people find great delight in God’s Word and great strength through the daily discipline of reading and reflecting on Scripture. As we read in Acts chapter 2, the early Church was devoted to Scripture and to the teaching of the apostles. Those first followers of Jesus eagerly gathered to learn from those who had been trained and taught by Jesus.

Much of Jesus’ ministry was based on Scripture. His teaching was grounded in Scripture from the beginning of his ministry (see Luke 4:16-21) through the end (see Luke 24:13-27). While suffering on the cross he cried out powerful words of Scripture (see Psalm 22:1a). For Jesus the living Word of God was formative and foundational to His mission and ministry. As followers of the Crucified and Risen Jesus, the living Word of God is also formative and foundational for our mission and ministry.

In order for a garden to produce an abundance it needs the proper nourishment. The same is true for a congregation. God’s people need to be regularly nourished by God’s Word. For congregational leaders this nourishment may be “lived” in a number of ways:

  1. Engage in Bible Reading as a daily discipline and habit.
  2. Engage in Bible Reflection at the beginning of every Church Council / Committee meeting to become fluent in the language of sacred Scripture.
  3. Engage in Bible Study on a regular basis to discover the depths of who God is and the breadth of what God does.

Blessed Lord God, you have caused the holy scriptures to be written for the nourishment of your people. Grant that we may hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that, comforted by your promises, we may embrace and forever hold fast to the hope of eternal life, which you have given us in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

(Evangelical Lutheran Worship pg. 72)

Bishop Daniel Beaudoin 23

 

Apostles’ Teaching Week One – Day Six

Proverbs 22:6 - Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray. (NRSV)

Someone once asked a question that took me by surprise: “What is your relationship like with the Bible?” I know why the Bible is important. I know my favorite stories and verses. I know the books of the Old and New Testament. But I have never put any thought into my relationship with the Bible. When I started thinking about it, it became a lot more complicated than I realized.

As much as I don’t want to admit, for most of my life I haven’t had a good relationship with the Bible, and I’ve learned that many people feel this way. If you’re like me, the Bible can be a frustrating text to read. You may feel like you need more training to talk about it. You think you are not a “good Christian” because there are things you don’t know. I love to read all genres of books; but it takes a lot of effort to sit down and do my daily Bible readings.

It wasn’t until I was talking with someone about their children leaving the church that I realized these feelings weren’t the whole story. Our conversation was centered around a person in their twenties who grew up very involved in church but had left the church for several years (a story very similar to my own). Without thinking about it I shared this verse with them: “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.” (Proverbs 22:6). Even when I had questions or doubts, I carried my faith with me every step of the way. I knew that I was a child of God, even if I wasn’t sure what that meant or how that related to other people. My morals and values never wavered, and eventually I realized that they were deeply rooted in my faith. Growing up in a Christian household, our faith was a part of how we lived and interacted with people. There was no separation between our faith and our daily lives. I never realized it, but this became an integral part of who I am and continued to be long after I moved away from home. “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.” (Proverbs 2:6).

When we are faithful and committed disciples, we encourage those around us in their faith, whether it is our children, our friends, our siblings, or our parents. For us and for others in our lives, the scriptures become a part of who we are, not just what we do. We don’t have to think about following the commandments or living out Jesus’ teachings because they become ingrained in our minds and our hearts. The Bible becomes more than just something we memorize. It becomes an exciting guide for us in our daily lives. We read stories, not as entertainment for Sunday School, but as a collection of people we can learn from. We still may be confused by what we read and may not understand the context of different passages, but these moments become further opportunities to train ourselves and those around us in “the right way”. With the Spirit’s help and with God’s word in our hearts, we are equipped to handle anything that we may encounter as we walk through life.

Let us pray … God, our teacher and our guide, be with us as we walk through your word. Give us patience when we don’t understand and give us wisdom to listen to what you are saying. Thank you for the people in our lives who encourage us in our faith. Help us to be that for those around us that we may become better disciples to our communities and the world. Amen.

Caroline Guy 24

 

Apostles’ Teaching Week One – Day Seven

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 - 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Many years ago, while I was working in Norfolk, the church where we attended was preparing to sell the parsonage. I was helping to clean out the place to get it ready for sale. On the doorpost outside the front door, there was a small, brass container. Not knowing what it was, I asked if it should be removed. I was told to take it down, keep it, and place on the doorpost of my own home. “What is it?” I asked. “A Mezuzah,” came the reply. “A what??”

According to My Jewish Learning website, “A mezuzah is a small box that is placed on the right doorpost of Jewish homes. Inside the box is a parchment scroll with verses from the Torah inscribed on it, including the Shema prayer from Deuteronomy that begins, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One”. The concept of a mezuzah comes from the Torah, where we read, “And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts (mezuzot) of your house and on your gates”.”

Although it’s not currently on the house where we reside (mainly because I couldn’t find it after we moved), it has graced the doorpost of many of homes where I have lived. Each time I walk in the door, I notice its presence; and I remember not only whose house I am entering (God’s house), I remember who it is – God’s child – who is entering the house. That’s the power, not of the mezuzah itself, but of the Scriptural message inside.

From the Lord, we have received the Word of God. Whether it is in the form of commandments, prayers, Gospel writings or wisdom literature, it all comes from the Lord; and it impacts our lives. It is the word that we live by. It comforts us when distressed and challenges us when we are at ease. It makes demands and offers solace. It reveals God’s power and manifests God’s love. In short, it touches our lives in every way.

It also unites us as the community of faith. Even though our favorite translations may vary, we all turn to the same Word to hear and respond to God. In worship, Sunday school classes, prayer groups and fellowship gatherings, it reveals God’s will for our lives together as the people of God. In no place else does one book have so much effect on the lives of so many. It tells us who we are, whose we are, and where we are called to be. It is the Word of God.

So, whether a mezuzah graces the doorpost of your home or whether it’s just the doorbell, the Scriptures touch your life. They show us the will of God. They tell us the story of Jesus. They reveal the work of the Holy Spirit. In short, to paraphrase the psalmist, “they govern our going out and our coming in from this day forth and for every day of our lives.”

Almighty God, thank you for the gift of the Holy Scriptures. Help me to remember your Word in my life this day and every day; and inspire me to share your Word with others. Amen.

Pastor David Westphal 25

Fellowship Week Two – Day One

Ephesians 4:2-4 (NIV)

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

If you want to experience one of the most loving and Spirit-filled communities of people, I encourage you to volunteer or chaperone at the next ELCA National Youth Gathering. Every three years, over 30,000 high school students and adult volunteers take over a city to worship, serve, and learn. They are one of the truest examples of “church together”. Even when temperatures are hot, crowds are large, and days are long, total strangers show their love for their neighbor throughout the week with an energy and positivity that is contagious. From conga lines during the nightly Mass Gatherings, to spontaneous prayer groups, to selfless acts of looking out for one another, participants at the National Youth Gathering truly do “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”.

But this sense of community doesn’t stop after the speakers are finished and the worship team packs up for the night. Each day throughout the week, 10,000 youth participants go out into the host community to support local service efforts. Not only does this wave of volunteers lighten the load for these local organizations, but youth participants are able to share their energy and optimism with the community members they interact with. It is truly a delight to watch these students overwhelm the people they meet with the love and light of Christ. It is hard not to see God when you’re watching high schoolers sing praise hymns with homeowners as they work.

The National Youth Gathering is one of the most powerful examples of what it means to live out our faith, because of the joyous opportunities for discipling. Whether the youth realize it or not, when they engage with community members with joy and love for one another, people take notice. Jesus commands us over and over again to “love one another”. When we love like Jesus consistently in our daily lives, it is a powerful thing. Unconditional, Jesus-like love can change everything. When we devote ourselves to fellowship and to loving our neighbor, we live up to Jesus’ expectation and the early church’s example.

At first glance, this charge in Ephesians to be humble, gentle, patient, loving, and peaceful as a community seems simple. These are things most of us strive to be in our lives. But we often underestimate the life-changing power that comes with these traits. So how can you work to love your community a little bit more? How can you work together with people in your parish to be the light of Christ to your community? And are you prepared for all that is possible when you do?

Let us pray … Heavenly Creator, you have commanded us to love one another. Help us to remember this command, that we may be your hands and feet in our communities. Lord, you bless us with so much. Help us to recognize these blessings, use them to serve you, and share them with the world. For it is in your name we pray, Amen.

Caroline Guy 26

Fellowship Week Two – Day Two

Philippians 1:3-6

3I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

I’ve always been active in the Church. As a child, I attended Sunday School and sang in the Jr. Choir. When we were twelve, my friend and I joined the Senior Choir where we became the darlings of the group. Later, I was blessed to be part of a Confirmation class that produced three members of the clergy. That rootedness in the Body of Christ grew and fed my life of faith.

Now that I’m all grown-up and serving as a Pastor, Christian Fellowship remains a priority. I still love the unique bond that Jesus creates in the choir loft; and I believe that Church potlucks are a foretaste of the heavenly banquet! I also know that it’s important to balance those big-group relationships with deeper Christian friendships.

One of my most treasured sources of Christian Fellowship is the Ladies’ Bible Study that welcomed me into their ranks a couple of years ago. In this group, I’m not the Pastor. Instead, I’m free to relax in friendship and study with a group of faithful sisters in Christ. That sisterhood, forged through wrestling with scripture together, extends out into the rest of our lives as well. We often share group messages calling for prayer, celebration or encouragement for one of our members; and we’re always as close to each other as the phone. Again, that rootedness in the Body of Christ bears good fruit.

I chose the salutation from one of St. Paul’s letters for this devotion because it reminds us of our connectedness in The Body of Christ. Rather than planting hundreds of little Christian communities, Paul carried the One Church of Jesus Christ into hundreds of places. Through his prayerful support and letters, he was able to retain the unity that we all have in Jesus. The same is true for us today. We nurture and sustain our relationship with the entire Body of Christ through our relationships with other members. Some of those members are large groups, others are smaller groups and still others are deep and abiding individual friendships. Fellowship, in all its forms, is the lifeblood of faith.

Lord Jesus: Our lives are rooted and grounded in You. Thank you for the precious gift of Christian Fellowship where our faith is brought to life. AMEN

Pastor Beth Westphal 27

 

 

Fellowship Week Two – Day Three

Galatians 3:26-28

For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

The Greek word for fellowship is koinōnia and refers to a faith community that is formed by the Holy Spirit and grounded in the promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. All accounts of koinōnia in the Bible portray a community that seeks to be diverse and inclusive. Think about the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit brought together people from a wide array of cultures and languages (see Acts 2:5-12). Think about St. Paul, and his call to share the Gospel of Jesus with diverse peoples and communities. Paul knew that in Christ Jesus we are all children of God through faith, and “…no longer Jew or Greek… slave or free, male or female… but one in Christ…” (Galatians 3:26, 28). Koinōnia is a sign of life in the church. This radical, inclusive, and diverse fellowship is what Jesus had in mind from the very beginning of His public ministry.

How well does your church do koinōnia together? How well does your church play together? How well does your church eat together? How well does your church laugh together? Most congregations will respond that they do the playing, the eating, and the laughing together just fine. I often hear congregations describe themselves as a “family”, which is good… but only if you are a part of the family.

I will sometimes ask congregations that describe themselves as a family, this question, “If you are new, how do you become part of a church family that already exists and has existed for years?” Then, if I’m feeling particularly brave, I will ask, “Who is missing?” Does this church family reflect the demographics of the neighborhood and the community? If yes, praise God! If not, why not?

Dream about some ways that you might reach out to the community where God has placed your congregation in order to become a diverse and inclusive koinōnia that has the potential to transform the neighborhood and the world.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. (A prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi)

Bishop Daniel Beaudoin 28

 

Fellowship Week Two – Day Four

1 Corinthians 1:9

God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus our Lord.

The song “Give Me Jesus” came to mind while pondering on the fellowship of the disciples and their walk with Jesus.

In the morning when I rise, In the morning when I rise,

In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus.

Refrain: Give me Jesus. Give me Jesus.

You can have all this world, But give me Jesus.

And when I am alone, And when I am alone,

And when I am alone, Give me Jesus. (Refrain)

And when I come to die, And when I come to die,

And when I come to die, Give me Jesus. (Refrain)

Have you ever wandered what it would have been like to walk in the fellowship of Jesus as the disciples did? To hear the parables first hand? To be rebuked by him, only to observe him loving children, or widows, or outcasts? Scripture says that God calls us into fellowship with his Son—God gives us Jesus when we rise, when we are alone, and when we come to die! Because God gives us fellowship with Jesus, then we walk with him as his disciple today. Each morning we are called be witnesses to that fellowship, and to be in fellowship with one another.

The verse, “And when I am alone,” calls to mind times of loneliness, or maybe separation from God. Sometimes this feeling accompanies transition. Congregations in transition may feel alone working through the call process. Being alone is not God’s plan. We read in Genesis, “… God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” (Genesis 2:18). Congregations in transition have many partners while on their journey, partners they may not know. Feeling alone, whether as an individual or a congregation, should fade away by Jesus’ promise. He says, “… remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b).

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). To know Jesus as Savior means to never walk alone. When we “walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7). Ultimately God’s plan is that his Church be together in fellowship worshipping, caring for the poor and outcast, singing praises, loving Him with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, and loving our neighbors as Jesus loved us. Cleansed of our sins with the precious blood of Jesus, even when we die, we will be in fellowship with him, because God made it so.

Dear God, thank you for giving us Jesus so we are never alone. Amen.  - Deb Noll 29

 

Fellowship Week Two – Day Five

Hebrews 10:24-25

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Scripture reveals to us that we serve a relational God. Since we were created in His image, we are designed to share our lives together and live in community with one another. The Bible says the first century Christians devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship. (Acts 2:42-47)

Fellowship with God and fellowship with other believers go hand in hand. We are united to one another by common beliefs, purposes and goals. This helps us to stay focused on Christ, his desires and goals for us. True Christian fellowship helps sharpen one another’s faith (Proverbs 27:17) and stirs one another on to exercise our faith in love and good works to glorify God. When non-Christians see this, it can help influence them toward faith in Jesus Christ (John 13:33)

Sometimes the demands and responsibilities of life can keep us too busy or we can become so wrapped up in “our stuff”, “our needs”, and “our desires” that we isolate ourselves. I found myself in this place after my mother passed away unexpectedly a few years ago. I was angry at God and didn’t want to be around my church family. Thankfully, some good friends kept praying for me and encouraging me to get back into fellowship. Over time I found peace and healing. I came to realize how important it was to be with other believers after this dark season of the soul.

If you have found yourself too busy or hurt to be in fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ, let me encourage you to heed Gods word to make fellowship a priority. When we are in fellowship, encouraging and loving one another and serving others, you can be sure God will see to it that you are encouraged as well (Matthew 6:33).

Father, we see so many examples in Scripture on the importance of fellowship. Please help us to make fellowship a priority, take our eyes off ourselves, and help us to be an encouragement to those you place in our path. When they see us, may they see you. In Jesus name, Amen.

Jennifer Prueter 30

 

Fellowship Week Two – Day Six

2 Timothy 1:5-7 - Paul writes to Timothy - “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

 

When I read this passage, I am reminded of my own mother and grandmother and how

much their faith helped to shape my own. In other words, there has been a living faith that

has been passed down in my family from one generation to the next just as it was for

Timothy.

 

I didn't have to go out and find it but rather the witness of faith and how it shapes one

another was right in front of me all of my life. My choice was to see it and then decide if

this was important to me as well. Their role model of faith in God was provided to me

from my beginning.

 

Your choice may have been similar with people in your own family, or it may have been

completely different. Maybe faith in Jesus Christ was not important in your family

growing up and so people speaking and acting with one another under the influence of

faith may be new to you. Whatever route your journey in faith has taken, you still have

role models who influence you and because of their witness you are here today.

This is what happens when we hang out with people of faith – the love of God simply

rubs off on one another. In this way faith is not only contagious but genuine. Faith is

something that provides a foundation for us to stand on and not lose our footing.

So who influenced you to believe in God? Was it your mother or grandmother? Was it a

teacher at school or a good friend? How about your next door neighbor or even your son or

daughter?

 

The Holy Spirit is always inviting us to be in relationship with God and is speaking to us

through those people around us. We do know people who have showed us what faith looks

like by what they said and what they did. We could see this in their personal life. We could

also see this in their work and how they treated their co-workers. Faith is like yeast in our

bread – a little bit goes a long way and it can completely change what we look like on the

outside because of what it has already done to us on the inside.

 

As you look and pray for the future of your congregation during this transition please

remember those people of faith who have gone before you and how they showed you what

faith looks like and what it does. Please then give some thought to how you want to

influence the young people among you now as well as the people who someday will be led

to your congregation. How well you welcome them and nurture them will be a reflection of

the faith you have already been given. This is your gift. Please use it well.

 

Let us pray....Thank you for those people who show us what faith looks like. Help us to use it well and even pass it on. Amen

Rev. Steve Nelson 31

 

Fellowship Week Two- Day Seven

Psalm 133

1How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! 2It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. 3It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.

The fellowship of the church isn’t always unified. Disputes and arguments happen. Part of the reason for that is the passion each person holds for their faith and their congregation. Spats sometimes devolve into divisions, and sometimes those divisions can erupt into full-fledged separation. Often, the church can be a messy place.

However, what Holy Spirit brings to the equations transcends these often-petty arguments and feuds. The power of the presence of the Spirit brings unity even amidst the diversity. That’s because the church isn’t just “your” or “my” church. The church was and always is “Christ’s church.” It is his body – literally and figuratively. It is the presence of the Lord in a real and physical way in the world.

Knowing this often changes the way we think about “church”, and particularly the congregation of which we are a part.

Many years ago, I was a member of a small congregation in Norfolk, Virginia. Because of its limited membership and attendance, most of the folks knew each other well. Unfortunately, the familiarity occasionally erupted in arguments and disagreements. Normally, these were small and easily remedied. However, on one occasion, the divisions escalated into a full-blown rift. Folks were angry. Some threatened to leave the church. Others hailed their apparent departure.

Thankfully, however, with the help from an outside resource person, tempers were cooled and anger was abated. The congregation remained unified, and folks grew close together again. The key to the turnaround was the recognition that we were the body of Christ. Each of us was a brother or sister not only with Jesus, but with each other. We were reminded of the unity already present because of the Holy Spirit; and that the Spirit’s role was to draw people together in a spirit of forgiveness, grace and understanding. Rather than divided, because we were Christ’s body, we were united by God.

Unfortunately, not all church divisions end as well. However, the message that we heard remains clear for all congregations: The church is the body of Christ. It is held together not by our mutual love for one another but by the power of the Holy Spirit and our mutual faith in Jesus Christ. We may disagree, even feud, but that in no way diminishes the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to unite us as one community in Christ.

Lord Jesus Christ, you have called us together to be your body and presence in the world. Send your Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives that together we may reveal your Word and will to the world. Amen.

Pastor David H. Westphal 32

 

Breaking of Bread Week Three – Day One

Luke 22:17-20

Then he [Jesus] took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

When Jesus gathered with His disciples in the Upper Room on the night of His betrayal, they gathered to worship and to share a sacred meal. Jesus and the disciples shared a loaf of bread and a common cup of wine. As followers of Jesus, we continue to participate in this sacred meal, knowing that in the simple elements of bread and wine (and God’s Word), Jesus is truly present. “This is my body. This is my blood. Do this in remembrance of me”.

Worship is an important and necessary spiritual discipline. We need to hear God’s Word in the reading of sacred scripture and from preaching that is rooted in the Gospel. We need to be nourished by God’s life-giving sacraments which include: Holy Communion and Baptism. We also need to gather in community, to pray, praise, and thank God. Worship is sacred work, and sacred work is best done together; never alone.

As you ponder the worship life of your congregation, where are you most keenly aware of God’s holy presence? Is it in the reading of Scripture? Is it in the preached Word? Is it in the sharing of Holy Communion? Singing together? Praying together? Is it in gathering with a community of people you know and love?

As you consider the awareness of God’s holy presence in worship, I now invite you to consider how you reflect God’s holy presence through the week. How does Sunday morning worship impact your daily walk of faith from Monday through Saturday? Is there a disconnect? Or do you experience a sense of sacredness at work, at school, or at home? Or better yet, when people experience you on a daily basis, do they experience a sense of sacredness, love, and grace? Worship isn’t just about Sunday morning; it’s about living every day in the presence of God and reflecting God’s sacred presence in the world.

Merciful God, we do not presume to come to your table trusting in our own righteousness, but in your abundant mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat and drink the body and blood of your dear Son, Jesus Christ, that we may live in him and he in us, now and forever. Amen.

(Evangelical Lutheran Worship pg. 72)

Bishop Daniel Beaudoin 33

 

Breaking of Bread Week Three – Day Two

Psalm 42:1-5

1As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. 2My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? 3My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, "Where is your God?" 4These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. 5Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help 6and my God.

I was 22 years old, living in a city where I didn’t know anyone, enrolled in a graduate program that wasn’t what I thought it would be; and I was miserable. I had no clear plan for my career and no real goals. I felt lost and alone; but God was right there with me.

During the first week of classes, my accompanist suggested that I audition for the paid choir at the Episcopal Cathedral downtown. I love choral music and I needed the money, so I went. In hindsight, I can see that God got behind me and pushed me into the audition. That afternoon, I got the job that probably saved my life.

For the rest of that school year, I struggled through each weekday clinging to the sure and certain hope of worship on Sunday. The choir loft became my home where the members of the choir shined the light of Christian fellowship into my darkness.

It was there that I discovered the depth of joy that worship can bring, the healing power of God’s Word proclaimed in the liturgy, and the sustaining Grace granted in Holy Communion. Every Sunday, I came to the Altar starving and Jesus fed me with His own precious Body and Blood. Today, years later, I’m still awe-struck by the beauty and power of worship. But nothing will ever compare with that dark school year when I truly experienced God’s Amazing Grace.

Saving Lord: You know us better than we know ourselves. Thank you for leading us to streams of living water when we need You the most. AMEN

Pastor Beth Westphal 34

 

Breaking of Bread Week Three – Day Three

Mark 6:41-42 - Taking the five loaves and the two fish, [Jesus] looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled.

When we gather and invite Jesus Christ into our community worship anything can happen. For sure we pray together, we sing and we hear the Bible read. This is what we see. Yet there is so much more going on that we don't see as the Holy Spirit moves among us and speaks to our hearts.

What does it mean in this bible passage that all ate and were satisfied? Is that something that can happen to us as we worship together? I can leave a worship service humming one of the songs we sang. I can remember and smile at the pastor's joke. I can still taste the bread and the wine from Holy Communion but is there more?

How much do we desire to receive from God when we gather for worship? What do we want or better yet, what do we need? Is this something that we bring and then offer to God in our prayers as we gather together for worship? Are there prayers that others around us bring as well?

The people in Mark's story were hungry when Jesus told them to sit down on the grass. All four Gospels tell this story and Mark tells it twice. The early church must have really liked this story for it to be so well known with all the Gospel writers. Maybe this familiar story is trying to tell us about what to expect when we gather together for worship in Christ's name.

The Holy Spirit can touch our hearts too as we sing the songs. The songs even make some people cry. The prayers we say together are not spontaneous and yet the Holy Spirit can listen to them anyway when they come from our hearts through our lips.

The Bible is read and the preacher gives us a chance to reflect what we have heard. Sometimes this takes us deep into our own thoughts.

We all go up together for Holy Communion and we hold out our empty hands like a beggar to receive the bread and the wine. Body and blood given and shed for you, and for me, and for us all. Water dripping down a person's face at baptism – now they too are joined with us to Christ's body through forgiveness and grace.

We may not always see what the Holy Spirit is doing to us as we gather for worship and yet we have entered a sacred space and we have made room for the Holy One to speak to us. Whatever is given we take with us out into the world and we use it to nourish our soul and the souls of others.

As you prepare for your transition please know that as you gather together for worship the Holy Spirit has already been feeding you for the journey ahead. You have already been given what you need.

Let us pray – Thank you God for feeding us as we come together for worship. Amen.  

Rev. Steve Nelson 35

 

Breaking of Bread Week Three – Day Four

Proverbs 22:9

Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.

Bread for All People (BFAP) is the name of the outreach ministry of St. John Lutheran Church (Windfall), Cardington, Ohio. One of its first ministries was providing brown-bag carryout meals for the consumers at the Cardington Community Food Pantry (CCFP). The meal consisted of ham and cheese sandwiches, applesauce, and homemade raisin cinnamon bread. At the peak of distribution 500+ meals were handed out on the night the Pantry was open. Bread, ham and cheese were purchased from monetary donations. Congregational members donated applesauce and baked the individual-sized breads. Church and community volunteers arrived early on pantry day to make sandwiches, fill brown bags with the completed meals, deliver the meals, and hand them to the pantry consumers. Consumers were asked their name and number of people in the family—they were given meals for each member. It was rare to run out of meals, and there was always a need for any leftovers. Some evenings it felt like the feeding of the 5000.

The CCFP works in cooperation with seven churches and is served from the First United Methodist Church, Cardington. At the time BFAP started serving meals, the pantry met only one night of the month. A Eucharist service, for those wishing to participate, was offered before the doors to the pantry opened. As many as twenty individuals became involved and shared in the breaking of bread. St. John members began taking prayer requests. Those who shared their needs and wants were sometimes brought to tears because someone showed concern. The love of Christ was always in the room.

Jesus’ disciples didn’t expect Jesus to feed 5000+ with a few loaves of bread and some fish when he said, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry for they might faint on the way” (Matthew 15:32). Jesus’ disciples didn’t know that on the night when he was betrayed the bread that was broken and the wine that was poured and given them to eat and drink would feed the saints and sinners of all generations until Jesus’ return. The apostle Paul writes regarding the meal, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Any time bread is broken, or a meal shared, whether by serving brown bag meals at a food pantry, or providing a community meal, or a potluck dinner at church, or inviting friends in, or kneeling at the Lord’s Table, there is reason to pause, remember, and give thanks for the precious gift of Jesus Christ. Do this in remembrance of him.

Gracious God, through your son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, you showed the way we are to serve the sick, the poor, and the outcast. We have been given a precious meal of bread and wine—his body and blood—to remind us of his loving sacrifice. Help us to remember to share bread with the poor, to welcome the stranger, and above all to love one another. Amen.

Deb Noll 36

 

Breaking of Bread Week Three – Day Five

1 Corinthians 10:17 - Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

What is your most meaningful part of worship? Is it the sharing of the peace? The choir anthem? The children’s message or the sermon?

Mine has always been Holy Communion. As a child I could sense the reverence of that moment in worship when we say the Lord’s Prayer and prepare to take communion. I knew it was a special moment. When I learned why it was special, I looked forward to it even more. And then I started to experience communion outside of Sunday worship.

Being the daughter of a pastor, I regularly visited hospitals and nursing homes with my mother. When allowed, I would sit with my mom and the person we were visiting. The conversation would vary. Some people would tell her every detail of the past few days and some would say nothing at all. But every time the communion kit was brought out and the scriptures were read, the reaction was almost always the same. Even the quietest people would sing a hymn and pray the Lord’s Prayer. And communion held the same amount of reverence in those quiet rooms as it did on Sunday morning in our sanctuary. No matter where I experienced Holy Communion, it felt just as special. The words and prayers were still there. The bread and the wine (or grape juice) were still there. Most importantly, the Spirit was always there.

We are reminded in 1 Corinthians that even though we are all individual people who make up our congregations, our parishes, our synods, and our denominations, we are still one Body of Christ. Whether we worship in a traditional sanctuary, someone’s living room, a nursing home dining room, a park, or a converted store front, we all come together to be the one body who share the one bread. Each time we take communion, we join millions of others around the world and remember that our faith is more than which hymns we prefer or which pew we like to sit in or even how we prefer to receive communion. Our faith is our personal relationship with God that ties us to a community of people, and in this we become the body of Christ. Participating in communion is how we share God’s gift and promise with the world.

The next time you receive Holy Communion, pay close attention to the words that you hear as you receive the bread and wine. “The body of Christ, given for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.” These are extraordinary words. Jesus died on the cross for you, yes you. But what is more extraordinary is when we realize that every other person is receiving the same gift. Jesus died to save you, but also the person sitting to your right and your left. We are individual members of the collective body of Christ. The gift was given to you and to all of God’s people. No matter where we are, who we are, how we commune, or what pew we sit in, we share one bread as one body.

Let us pray… Awesome God, we thank you for the gift of your son Jesus Christ. Help us to remember just how extraordinary this gift is. Fill us with your Spirit to go out and minister to your people wherever they may be. Your will be done. In your precious name we pray, Amen.

Caroline Guy 37

 

Breaking of Bread Week Three – Day Six

Roman 12:1-2 - 1I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Above the chancel area at the church where I went as a child was written a quote from the sixteenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” Nearby was a large map of the world with various places pinpointed with strings stretching from the church to various places in the world. Those pinpoints indicated missionaries that the church supported. I was always impressed by the reach of that congregation.

Paul reminds us that worship includes more than just coming to church on Sunday mornings. While important and critical to our lives of faith, the weekly gathering does not suffice in terms of our life in Christ. Instead, as Paul writes, we are to present our bodies – our very selves – to the Lord. This “living sacrifice” of self is truly our worship before the Lord.

But we don’t do it alone. As is often the case in Paul’s letters, his thinking is less personal and more communal. Rather than our individual sacrifice of self, Paul argues that it is the communal sacrifice of selves that is important. Together, we present our bodies – the body of Christ gathered as this congregation – as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. It is the body – the church – that the Lord seeks.

This communal self-giving of the church is a vital aspect of who we are as the people of God. Only when we gather together around the table and font with prayers, praise and thanksgiving are we then empowered and enabled to go into the world and accomplish that to which God calls. Only after we are washed in the water and fed at the meal do we have strength and Spirit to do the work of the Lord. It is when we participate in the body and act as one that the fullness of God’s will is made known.

Worship – communal worship – is the basis of our faith; and it implies more than coming to church on Sunday morning. Communal worship – spiritual worship – engages the hearts, souls and minds of the entire congregation in loving praise and willing service. Together, both through the worship of the community at church and the action of the community in the world, the people of God are transformed. Their hearts and minds are renewed; and the good and acceptable and perfect will of God is done.

Each Sunday, I’d look up at the quote and the large map and think to myself: Wow, God is really at work here in this place through these people gathered in the name of Jesus. What an awesome church this is.

Lord, you call us together that we may present ourselves as living sacrifices. Transform us by your Spirit that we may discern your will and together accomplish that which is good and acceptable and perfect for the sake of your kingdom. Amen.

Pastor David H. Westphal 38

 

Breaking of Bread Week Three – Day Seven

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

The first followers of Christ were devoted to breaking bread, and the breaking of bread at that first communion table has been re-enacted down through the centuries as a way of remembering the first celebration of His sacrifice on the cross and the institution of the New Covenant in His blood. When Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine at the last supper, he was telling his disciples they should never forget that his death was for them and that his sacrifice provided salvation. Salvation is a gift of grace and love from God the Father to his children. The fact that God loved us enough to sacrifice his son on our behalf is a mystery that transcends all human understanding.

When I think that the God of the Universe loved me enough to sacrifice his Son, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Think about it: The Son of Man willingly endured crucifixion and shed his blood not only for each of our individual sins, but the sins of the entire world! What an unbelievable expression of love! Each time I take communion, I am overwhelmed by God’s grace and His expansive love for me.

Because of this amazing gift, the Lords supper challenges me personally to examine myself prior to coming to the table. This costly sacrifice compels me to examine my heart for sin and ask the question, “Am I living a life worthy of this great sacrifice?” It also reminds me that this life is temporal and one day I will get to see Christ face to face and break bread with him in eternity.

This shared meal is a beautiful picture of God’s immense love for us, and our unity with Christ and one another. It is a reminder of His grace, and mercy. When we partake in the sacrament of Holy Communion, let us never forget Jesus’ body was broken for our wholeness, sanctification and perfection; and his blood was shed for the remission of our sins. We are now an offspring and heir of the New Testament Covenant signed in His blood. What glorious news this is!

Father, we are overwhelmed that you loved us enough to sacrifice your Son on our behalf. As we partake in the sacrament of Holy Communion, help us to always remember how great of a sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf, and may we live lives that honor this precious gift. In Jesus name, amen.

Jennifer Prueter 39

 

The Prayers Week Four – Day One

Philippians 4:6

Do not worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Do you remember the first prayer you put to memory?

Every night I prayed, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake. I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.” I didn’t have much to worry about as a child. I had two loving parents, a brother, several cousins and friends, and plenty to do. Not many worries at all, and I prayed every night “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”

Can you remember anyone ever taking the time to tell you why people pray as they do?

I had a great aunt, a Catholic nun, named Sister Clare. She saw my Praying Hands necklace, and asked if I knew why we prayed with our hands folded in that [basic prayer] position? I said, “No.” She told me something similar to the “five finger” prayer practice common today. Her version had some distinct differences however.

She began by saying, “When we pray this way our thumbs are pointing back to our heart, and the fingers are pointing up to heaven. Our prayers should always come from our heart and be directed to God in heaven. With our thumbs pointing to our hearts we pray for those we love.”

Another difference, “The index fingers and thumbs form the letter “L” which stands for Land and Leaders. We remember to pray for the Land (Creation), and for the Leaders of all the Lands. The tallest finger is like a church steeple, we should pray for Leaders in the Church.”

“Above all else,” she said, “when your hands are in this position, they are not busy doing other things. They remind us of what Jesus taught, ‘But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret’ (Matthew 6:6a). This is not a secret of not wanting others to know something, but rather it means that heart-felt prayer with God is personal, and is to be made as if you are whispering it to him, with no interruptions, as if whispering a secret to a friend.”

Growing up when I’ve had worries, I’ve been deliberate to fold my hands in such a manner as to pray directly from my heart to God in heaven, quietly, as if whispering to a friend.

Have you ever been asked “For what shall we pray?” and you haven’t had an answer?

At a time of extreme worries, when my husband’s legs were amputated to save his life after he had contacted Necrotizing fasciitis (the flesh-eating bacteria), people asked what they should pray. I answered, “Pray, as Jesus prayed, ‘Not my will, but God’s will be done.’” Fourteen years later—Dick is alive and doing well. For that I daily pray, “Thanks be to God.”

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” It sounds silly. How can we not worry? Praying more frequently helps to lessen our worries because when we put our trust in God who knows our needs before we ask, it is possible that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and [our] minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Holy God, keep us mindful to pray, take away our worries, give us thankful hearts, and bring us your peace. Amen. -                     Deb Noll 40

 

The Prayers Week Four – Day Two

Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

“How may we pray for you today?” Although a simple question, it is one that has shaped my relationship with God and the people around me.

For as long as I can remember, every time my family would go out to eat, my mother would ask our server, “We’re about to pray, how may we pray for you today?” Now, as a child, this was usually mortifying. How can you just ask a stranger something so personal? I couldn’t see the importance of this simple gesture.

But looking back, I don’t remember a time when someone answered negatively to this question. I’m sure there were some instances, but even if it was just a name, or a relationship, or a doctor’s appointment, or a test, most people were quick to offer up an addition to our family prayers. There’s even been times where this question has opened up lengthier conversations, exchange of contact information, laughter, or (more commonly) tears. Even though it happened multiple times, I was always surprised, and even a little embarrassed when someone started crying. I felt that it was rude and intrusive of us to be interrupting someone’s day like this.

What I didn’t realize yet, was that this simple question was a way of living out our call as disciples of Jesus. Jesus commands and teaches us how to pray. The early church devoted themselves to “the prayers”. We are reminded in Ephesians that we should pray everywhere and for everyone. Prayer is not something we reserve for Sunday mornings or for those with whom we feel comfortable. Prayer is a gift and a tool that we have been given to share with

“all the Lord’s people”.

So now when we go out to eat as a family, I pay close attention when the question is asked (because many years later, the question is still asked). I pay attention to the look of surprise or hesitation. But it doesn’t bother me like it used to because I’m also paying attention to the urgency of the response or the visible sigh of relief as they let go of something that they’ve been wanting to share. I now see how one simple question can invite the Spirit in and intertwine our daily lives and our spiritual lives. It takes no special training, no seminary education, and no theological expertise. All it takes is a willingness to venture into the call of discipleship and a genuine love for those around you, and you might find yourself transformed by the power of prayer.

Let us pray… Good and gracious God, we thank you for the gift of prayer and for your Son, Jesus, who taught us to pray. Walk with us as we explore this gift, that it may bring us closer to you and your people. Give us the courage and the patience to reach out to those who are in need of prayer, and to recognize it within ourselves. In your precious name we pray, Amen.

Caroline Guy 41

 

The Prayers Week Four – Day Three

Matthew 6:5-8

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

I am a musician. Because I was raised in a musical home, music is my first language and my first love. Of course, being raised by a music teacher had its challenges along with its joys. To this day, when I make a mistake at the piano, I expect to hear my Dad’s voice from another part of the house shouting, “sharp!” or “flat!!!” That was the annoying part. My Dad also taught me that “slow makes fast”. In other words, learning the techniques well and practicing the notes slowly is the only way to eventually make beautiful music. He taught me that good technique sets creativity free.

I believe that the same mindset can be applied to prayer. Like music, prayer is both a practice and a state of being. Like beginning music students, many of us get bogged down in technique and become frustrated. Also, like music, the only way through that frustration is to practice until the technique we’ve chosen becomes second nature to us.

There are thousands of resources out there to teach us how to pray. In the beginning, it’s good to work with a trusted teacher or Christian friend to find the prayer practice that suits you best. Then, you just have to do it! With practice, those awkward early attempts will blossom into a rich and rewarding prayer relationship with God. Like a proficient musician, concentration on technique will eventually give-way to immersion in the experience. So, whether we’re praying in the silence of our room or in the presence of an assembly, we’re free to devote all our attention to God.

Holy Triune God: You created us to be in relationship with You and with each other. Thank you for the gift and privilege of prayer. AMEN

Pastor Beth Westphal 42

 

The Prayers Week Four – Day Four

Colossians 4:2

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.

Did you know the importance of prayer is mentioned over 250 times in the scriptures? Jesus often spent hours in prayer (Luke 6:12). On the night before he was to be crucified, scripture tells us he was praying with such intensity, he sweat blood (Luke 22:44). Prayer was also a high priority for the apostle Paul. Some of the most beautiful prayers ever written are found in his letters. (Romans 1:8-10, 1Corinthians 1:4-9, Ephesians 1:15-23, Philippians 1:3-6) Paul was diligent to pray for others and thank God for them. If Jesus and Paul took the need of prayer seriously, how much more do we need to pray?

God hears us when we pray, and he delights in our prayers (Psalm 141:2). Prayer is important because it helps us draw close to God’s heart and understand more about Him. Prayer gives us the opportunity to share all aspects of our lives with God as well as express gratitude for his provision. It provides the basis for confession of sin and the ability to ask God for help to overcome sin. Prayer is an act of worship and obedience reminding us Who is really in control of our lives.

Over the years I’ve developed the discipline of daily devotions and prayer. These spiritual disciplines have helped me to know God more intimately and stay connected to him. They have been a source of encouragement to my heart in the midst of life’s storms. Often, the Lord will put people in my path who I’ve been able to encourage through the devotions I’ve read for that day. If devotions and prayer are not currently a part of your daily routine, I encourage you to consider incorporating them into your life. You won’t regret it!

Father God, we give thanks that because of Jesus we have access to come to you in prayer. Help us to make prayer a priority in our daily lives rather than a last resort. May we seek your wisdom and guidance for all of life’s circumstances, and may we be your living vessels, sharing your love and goodness with those you put in our paths. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Jennifer Prueter 43

 

The Prayers Week Four – Day Five

Philippians 4:4-7 - (Paul writes to the church in Philippi) Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let our gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

As a pastor there has always been a prayer chain or list of people in the churches I have served whom we were encouraged to pray for their need. I have appreciated this because I knew most of these people on the list and they really needed our prayers. I also knew that my prayers weren't enough and there was even a time when my name was on the prayer list too. People really needed the prayer support and so did I. Their prayers reminded us that we were not alone and this was very encouraging to us.

Sometime in my 40's, my Mom casually mentioned that she prayed for me every day. This had never occurred to me that she would do this. It wasn't long after her casual statement that our first daughter was born and I began to learn why a parent would pray for their child every day.

God wants us to pray for one another – both the people whom we know and love as well as the stranger on the other side of the world. Sometimes I will hear something on the news and I will be moved to pray for them simply because their grief or sadness is so great.

Our prayers keep us connected with those close to us and even far away. We are all God's people and seeking God's mercy and love. God wants us to pray on behalf of one another.

By using this devotion you are praying for your congregation in your time of transition. You are paying attention to the needs of those around you and you are asking God for help by making your needs known.

How will your congregation be different?

How will your congregation remain the same?

What is needed in your congregation to help you be prepared for both?

By praying for others in your congregation during this process you are asking the Holy Spirit to guide all of you. You are asking for wisdom that is beyond a single person. You desire to be connected in your love for God as you pray for one another.

God will hear your prayer and show you what is needed. And then God will provide all of you with the courage to make this change happen and that includes welcoming a new pastor who is also praying for the Holy Spirit's guidance.

This seems so simple and yet this is how we tap into the quiet strength of God. Please know that God delights when we ask for God's help just as a parent prays for their child.

Let us pray....Holy Spirit unite us in prayer as we prepare for this new adventure. Amen.

Rev. Steve Nelson 44

 

The Prayers Week Four – Day Six

Psalm 62:1-2

1For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. 2He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.

In this, one of my favorite psalms, the author reminds us of the nature of the spiritual life: Silence. Silently waiting upon the Lord is the key to deepening a life of prayer. Rather than speaking, quietly, patiently, expectantly anticipating the Lord to speak into the silence is the essence of a life in the spirit.

There was a time I did not understand this. Early in my spiritual formation, I thought I was the one who had to talk while God simply listened and responded. I knew that God hears all prayer. I knew that God would answer (even though I may not like or appreciate the answer). All this I learned early on. So, I prayed.

Like a kid standing in front of a department store window at Christmas time, or (more contemporarily) someone opening page after page of Amazon shopping apps on their computer, I had a laundry list of things I expected God to accomplish. Generally speaking, the prayers included blessings upon people I love, healing for those who were sick, help with difficulties at work or at home, support for those facing difficulties, etc. The prayers were often altruistic, concise and outward looking.

However, it was still me speaking. Talk! Talk! Talk! That’s all I seemed to do in my prayers. Never stopping to listen, I just babbled on.

Then, a friend and mentor of mine taught me another way – the way of listening. He directed me into silence in the presence of God. Rather than a laundry list of what I wanted from God, I began to take the time to listen to what God wanted of me. Suddenly, my spiritual life exploded. I truly began to pray. I began to open myself up to the power of God’s grace, the abundance of God’s peace and the fullness of life God gives. No longer was I trapped in my prayer life. Suddenly, I was alive in prayer.

It was the silence – the quiet waiting upon the Lord to speak - the patient, expectant, anticipatory stillness before the Lord. In that time, in those quiet moments wherein my heart, soul and mind were simply waiting for the Lord to speak, I heard and received much more than I could ever have imagined. In the silence, God spoke volumes; and my spirit was and continues to be renewed.

For God alone my soul in silence waits. Take the time this day to be silent before the Lord. Start small; but do it! I think you’ll find that your spiritual life is suddenly filled with great power and joy.

Lord, you speak to us in the midst of our silence. Help me to be quiet this day that I might clearly hear your voice. Amen

Pastor David H. Westphal 45

 

The Prayers Week Four – Day Seven

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

We read in Acts 2:42d, that the early followers of Jesus devoted themselves to the prayers. You might notice that the word “prayers” is plural, which leads me to believe that the writer of the Book of Acts (Luke) is referring to regular times of intentional prayers. Faithful Jews prayed three times a day: early in the morning at the time of the morning sacrifice, at the ninth hour (3:00 p.m.) when the afternoon sacrifice was offered, and at sunset. Since almost all of the first Christians were Jewish, they kept the traditional times of regular, intentional prayers. As St. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians, prayer is a ceaseless rhythm of discipline that has the power to transform people and communities. As followers of Jesus, we are called to be a people of prayer.

Prayerfulness in a community of faith is a sign of vitality, but it takes practice and discipline. We learn to pray, and as we learn, we grow in our life of prayer. When I was a new pastor, a mentor taught me how to pray the psalms. The Book of Psalms is Israel’s prayer book and hymnal. These ancient words have been prayed for thousands of years. My mentor taught me to start slowly. To sit quietly and carefully read through a particular psalm. After reading it for a number of days, I was next encouraged to commit the psalm to memory. A few psalms that I have memorized over the years include: Psalm 1, 23, 46, 121, 130, and 131. Many years later, my prayers continue to be peppered with the words of these psalms.

How would you describe the prayer life of your congregation? Is it vital? Or is it anemic? Is praying the pastor’s job? Or do lay leaders regularly lead and model prayer? Is there a prayer team that meets regularly to pray for the congregation, pastor, leaders, neighborhood, and community?

I would encourage to make prayer a foundational faith discipline in your personal life and in the life of your congregation. If you are looking for a place to begin, you might check out the Book of Psalms.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore. (Psalm 131)

Bishop Daniel Beaudoin 46

 

Acknowledgements

We wish to thank the following contributors to this work:

Bishop Daniel G. Beaudoin
Bishop Beaudoin was elected May 21, 2016, to a six-year term as bishop of the Northwestern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). He was installed as bishop on July 23, 2016, at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Bowling Green, Ohio.

Bishop Beaudoin is married to Rachel, and they are blessed with 3 children: Joshua, Elijah, and Hannah. 2 daughters-in-law: Michelle and Chelsie. They are smitten with their grandson, George.

Bishop Beaudoin served as the pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Stony Ridge from 2004-2016. He served as the pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Edon, Ohio, from 1996 to 2004. From 2013-2015, he served as the Dean of the North Central Conference.

Bishop Beaudoin earned a Bachelor of Arts in History degree from Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., a Master of Divinity degree from Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, and a Master of Arts in Medieval History degree from the University of Toledo in Toledo, Ohio.

Bishop Beaudoin enjoys running with the Toledo Roadrunner’s Club, reading good books, studying Scripture, and eating Mediterranean food.

Caroline Guy
Caroline serves as the Coordinator of Communications and Technology for the Northwestern Ohio Synod, ELCA. She graduated from Baldwin Wallace University with a degree in Communication Studies, specializations in Public Relations and Spanish, and a minor in Dance. Caroline enjoys using technology to support people and organizations who are serving their communities and believes in the power of storytelling.

When she is not working you can find her choreographing local musical theater productions, baking, hiking, and volunteering at the local humane society (usually in the cat room). Her favorite Bible verse and guide for daily life is 1 Timothy 4:12.

Deborah (Deb) Noll
Deb is a baptized child of God, born to Willis and Mary (Freeman) Wright. She married Richard (Dick) Noll and they have one son, Daniel. Deb is an active member of St. John Lutheran Church (Windfall), Cardington, Ohio.

Deb serves on the Northwestern Ohio Synod Council and Synod Prayer Team. She has also been the Southeast Conference representative on the Northwestern Ohio Synod Women’s Organization. She sings in her church choir as well as the Morrow County Seniors on Center choir. She is vice president of Chester Arbor of the Gleaner Life Insurance Society.

Deb loves assisting her husband of 37years with his Fun and Flashy Physics outreach programs for schools, libraries, fairs, and civic organizations. Deb enjoys the three hours to mow their yard. It gives her time to solve all the world’s problems, design a new home, pray, and sometimes think of nothing at all. She relaxes on fair-weather evenings sitting on the porch with Dick taking in God’s creation and beautiful sunsets. 47

Pastor Steve Nelson
Steve is a retired Lutheran pastor living in Wapakoneta, Ohio with his wife Terry. He has served three congregations over 35 years in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Recently Steve completed a program for Spiritual Direction from the Shalem Institute in Washington D.C.

Steve enjoys his perennial garden, swimming laps at the local Y, reading fiction, and playing his baritone horn in a community band. Steve has participated in 'Journey of the Spirit' for over 20 years which offers a quiet retreat format with a covenant community twice a year in Pennsylvania. He says, "a quiet walk in a beautiful wooded area is good for my soul."

Jennifer Prueter

Jennifer is a follower of Jesus Christ and His teachings. She was called to be a part of the ministry of the Northwestern Ohio Synod in 2015, and currently serves on staff as Bishop Daniel Beaudoin’s Executive Administrative Assistant as well as on the Synod Prayer Team. She considers it a gift and privilege to be in this call.

Jennifer has been married to her husband Nick for 26 years and together they have 2 adult sons. She enjoys nature photography, reading, walking, and spending time with family and friends. One of her life verses has been Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”

Pastor Elizabeth (Beth) Westphal
Rev. Beth Westphal is a Lutheran Pastor who happens to be married to the compiler of this material. Dave and Beth enjoy a rich life together which includes regular spiritual retreats, travel, and quiet time together at home in Tiffin, OH.

Beth has served congregations in Cumberland, MD, Wheeling, WV, and Canal Winchester, OH. She has also served as Director of Pastoral Care for two faith-based elder living communities. Beth is currently serving two Lutheran congregations on the Lake Erie shore of Ohio and she remains actively involved in various musical groups and projects.

Pastor David H. Westphal
David is a retired pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America living in Tiffin, Ohio. He is married to Beth Westphal (see above), and together they have two cats. Currently, Dave enjoys supply preaching at various congregations in the Northwest Ohio Synod and assisting congregations in discernment and transition. He serves on the Northwest Ohio Synod Prayer Team.

David has an Associate degree in architecture, a Bachelors degree from Roanoke College in Virginia, and a Master of Divinity from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He has two-year certificates in congregational mission and planning from the Hall of Church Leadership, Cambridge, England and in Formative Spirituality and Spiritual Direction from the Epiphany Academy, Pittsburgh, PA. He has served churches in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio. He enjoys biking, walking, golfing, reading (history), writing, painting and especially his model HO trains. He is the author of one book, “Thy Will Be Done in Me”, and a resource for congregations seeking to discern the will of God: “At the Feet of Jesus”. 48

  • 01 Apr
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